May 2005, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

I Wonder If Any Of The Local Bars Carry CSPAN?  George Galloway will be testifying before a Senate committee to answer charges that he took bribes from Saddam.  
George Galloway MP pledged to fly to Washington yesterday and confront the US Senate inquiry which has published evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime allegedly allocated him the profit from oil contracts.

The material published by the sub-committee on investigations included extracts from Iraqi oil ministry documents created during and after the Saddam regime, and testimony from senior figures in the regime, including the former vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, who chaired the committee handling secret oil allocations.
. . .
Sen Norm Coleman, the Republican chairman of the sub-committee, said he was welcome to appear before it on Tuesday: "The hearing will begin promptly at 9.30am and there will be a witness chair and microphone available."  Mr Galloway's spokesman quoted him as saying: "Book the flights, let's go, let's give them both barrels.
Since I have neither cable nor satellite TV, I sometimes watch a sporting event at a bar.  I'd have to say that this encounter should be worth at least the cost of a couple of drinks.

And I am delighted to see that Senator Coleman has already drawn blood.
The committee rejected Mr Galloway's accusation that his attempts to contact it before publication of the report had been rebuffed, despite him writing "repeatedly".

A spokesman said he did not attempt to make contact by any method "including but not limited to telephone, fax, e-mail, letter, Morse code or carrier pigeon".

Mr Galloway later retracted his claims, telling Sky News: "Well, let's accept that I did not ask them to appear in front of them."
The two men, Galloway and Coleman, make an interesting contrast.  Galloway started on the far left and has stayed there.  He was far enough left to have considered the fall of the Soviet Union (which had been aiming atomic weapons at him nearly all his life) a disaster.  And now, like some others on the hard left, he has formed an alliance with extremist Muslims, people he would have scorned not that long ago.  But they hate the West and that is enough for him.

Norm Coleman, on the other hand, has a typical background for a Republican senator.
Growing up in a large Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, he has often said that most of his preparation for a life in politics came from sitting around the huge Coleman family kitchen table.   Full-throated debate on the issues of the day and mutual goodwill were always on the menu.

In college at Hofstra University on Long Island, Norm was student body president and a student activist deeply involved in the anti-war and civil rights movements.  He went to the University of Iowa Law School where he also served as student body president and graduated with highest honors.
. . .
In 1993, as a Democrat, Coleman was elected mayor of St. Paul, defeating the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Farm Labor Party.
. . .
In 1996, Mayor Coleman made a major change. Frustrated that the Democratic party he had been a part of from his youth had assumed the role of defenders of the status quo, he switched to the Republican party because he felt it held the best opportunity to bring about job growth, quality education and greater public safety.  In 1997 he was reelected mayor as a Republican, with 59 percent of the vote.
Well, all right, his background wasn't completely typical.  But it does illustrate a significant change in our politics: More and more those who want reform are joining the Republican party.

He'll be a good match for Galloway — if Galloway actually shows up.

(More on Galloway: Some of these charges have been around since 2003, when the Telegraph published articles based on documents found in the Iraqi foreign ministry.  Because of what seem to me peculiar quirks in British libel laws they lost a law suit to Galloway, though he never showed that their documents were false.  I don't claim to understand that, but here's a Q&A, which outlines the main events in that fight.  Note that the Senate committee supports its charges with different, and more extensive, evidence than that available to the Telegraph.

One of the nastier charges against Galloway is that he may have used a foundation set up to help an Iraqi girl as a front to conceal illegal activity.  Records seem to be missing, so we may never know the truth on that charge.)
- 1:36 PM, 16 May 2005   [link]

Is Nuclear Power Good For The Environment?  Experts have known for many years that nuclear power was better for the environment than the main alternative, coal.   Now, a few environmentalists are beginning to come to the same conclusion.
Several of the nation's most prominent environmentalists have gone public with the message that nuclear power, long taboo among environmental advocates, should be reconsidered as a remedy for global warming.

Their numbers are still small, but they represent growing cracks in what had been a virtually solid wall of opposition to nuclear power among most mainstream environmental groups.  In the past few months, articles in publications like Technology Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Wired magazine have openly espoused nuclear power, angering other environmental advocates.
And I have to give these few credit for consistency.  As I explained in this disclaimer, one of the reasons that I am skeptical about the most extreme claims about the dangers of global warming is that those making them seldom backed switching from fossil fuels to nuclear power.  So it is good to see at least a few being consistent.

But I also have to make this sour point.  As I said, experts have agreed for years that nuclear power was better for the environment than coal.  Yet environmentalists, or perhaps we should say, "environmentalists" have opposed nuclear power for decades now, almost unanimously.  (I believe that, early in the 1960s, the Sierra Club, which was then a more reasonable organization, supported nuclear power.)  That these "environmentalists", almost unanimously, preferred superstition to science gives us one more reason to be skeptical about everything else they say.

(There is a legitimate reason to oppose nuclear power, the problem of nuclear proliferation.   The spread of nuclear technology does make it easier for rogue states (and perhaps even terrorist organizations) to build nuclear weapons.

And there is very common illegitimate one, the fear of nuclear wastes.  The exploitation of this issue, often by people (even some scientists) who should know better is simply disgusting.)
- 8:34 AM, 16 May 2005   [link]

Newsweek Says They Are Sorry:  But they don't retract their story about the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo.
Newsweek apologized yesterday for an inaccurate report on the treatment of detainees that triggered several days of rioting in Afghanistan and other countries in which at least 15 people died.

Editor Mark Whitaker expressed regret over the item in the magazine's "Periscope" section, saying it was based on a confidential source -- a "senior U.S. government official" -- who now says he is not sure whether the story is true.
As you can see from the Kurtz column, Newsweek is claiming that they made a reasonable effort to check the story.  Assuming that's true — and there are reasons for skepticism* — then it would be wrong to say, as some are, that "Newsweek lied, people died".  We can say that Newsweek was careless and people died, which is still reprehensible, but not the same thing.   (And no longer rhymes.)

Let me make what I think is an obvious point — though it does not seem to be obvious to most American journalists:  In time of war, journalists should exercise some discretion about what they print, and should consider how their stories might affect the conduct of the war.   There's a story** from World War II that makes this point vividly.  A reporter asked a submarine officer how American submarines were able to avoid the Japanese depth bombs.  The officer explained (which he should not have done) that the Japanese submarines could not dive as deeply as American submarines, so the Americans just went down.  The Japanese did not know this and so set their depth bombs to go off at too shallow a depth.  An American submarine could escape just by going deep.  The story was printed (which also should not have happened) and eventually reached the Japanese, who then changed the settings for their depth bombs.

In our war with terrorists, intelligence is even more critical than it was in World War II.   In my view, Newsweek should not have printed this story even if they were absolutely certain that it was true, for the same reason that the World War II newspaper should not have printed the story about the American submarines.  If terrorists know our interrogation techniques, they can prepare for them.  And if we get less information from them as a result, Americans (and many others) will die who need not have.  I don't, for instance, think we needed to know about this horrific interrogation technique:
The Newsweek item that triggered the violence also said the forthcoming report would describe "one woman who took off her top, rubbed her finger through a detainee's hair and sat on the detainee's lap."
(Whether that's a war crime is something I'll leave to those more familiar with the subject.)

The Western press's obsession with Guantanamo (and Abu Ghraib) has helped the terrorists in many ways.  I would like to think that the deaths from this one Newsweek item would cause Western journalists to rethink that obsession, but I see no signs that many will.

(*What reasons?  The corporate connection between Newsweek and the Washington Post.  The ties of guild loyalty that make journalists defend other journalists even when they shouldn't.   And the fact that the Periscope, where the item appeared, is something of a political gossip column.

**I don't recall where I read this.  I am reasonably sure I saw it in a solid source, but it is possible that it is just one of those stories that floats around.  I used it here, because it makes my point so clearly.  But I do want you to know that I am relying on my memory here, and that I did not check the original story when I first read it.

Michelle Malkin has more, along with many links, here.)
- 7:06 AM, 16 May 2005   [link]

How Many Non-Citizens Vote In American Elections?  No one really knows, and the "mainstream" news organizations are not rushing to find the answer.  But, every once in a while, some evidence on the question comes along.  In the last election in Arizona, the voters passed an initiative, Proposition 200, which, among other things, requires new voters* to prove that they are citizens.   It has had quite an effect on registration in Pima County.
Failure to provide proof of citizenship is forcing Pima County election officials to reject an unprecedented number of voter registration forms.

Over the last two weeks, the county has rejected 59 percent or 423 of the 712 registration forms it has received from prospective new voters, said Registrar of Voters Chris Roads.

"We rejected none during the same period last year," when six times as many people were registering because of the presidential election, Roads said. "There was nothing in the law that required a rejection."
(Pima County, which includes Tucson, is on the border with Mexico so one would expect it to have a large number of non-citizens.  That Pima County rejected no (!) new registrations out of about four thousand last year shows that their registrar is not looking for opportunities to keep the voters off the rolls.)

Part of the problem is that the Justice Department has not yet approved Arizona's new forms, so many who want to register don't realize that they must now prove citizenship.  But, I also think that some of those 423 can't prove citizenship, because they aren't citizens.  And this bit from a Democratic official makes me certain of that.
Paul Eckerstrom, chairman of the county Democratic Party, expects many voters to give up in frustration.  As an opponent of Proposition 200, he remains convinced that its citizenship requirements are unnecessary because few if any illegal entrants have ever been prosecuted in Arizona for voting.  The initiative's "real intent," he said, was to make it difficult for voters — especially those inclined to vote Democratic — to cast a ballot.

"It's anti-American, anti-democracy," Eckerstrom said. "It's just another obstacle for voters to deal with.  The whole idea behind this thing is to suppress voter turnout."
Requiring a voter to be an American before they vote in American elections does not strike me as "anti-American", but perhaps I am missing part of his argument.  And, as I have mentioned before, hardly anyone, citizen or not, gets prosecuted for illegal voting, in Arizona, or in any other state.

To accept Eckerstrom's argument, you would have to conclude that potential Democratic voters (unlike potential Republican voters) are easy to discourage.  The alternate explanation, that non-citizens are more likely to vote Democratic seems far more plausible — and is just what investigators have found, in the few cases where this has been investigated.

If you read the whole article, you may wonder why the reporter, C.J. Karamargin, never asks whether some of those rejected may — however shocking this may seem — actually not be American citizens.  The answer to that lies in the paper's nickname.  I am told by a friend from Arizona that the Arizona Daily Star is sometimes called the "Red Star" by those who think that the newspaper is way to the left of John Kerry.

(Story by way of a local show host, John Carlson of KVI.

*My impression is that Arizona is only asking new registrants to prove citizenship, so non-citizens already on the rolls can continue to vote, at least for now.)
- 5:57 PM, 15 May 2005   [link]

Not Everyone Loves Howard Stern:  In fact, some Hyundai buyers can't stand him.
Hyundai recently surveyed 300 to 400 customers as it was deciding whether to choose XM (down $0.10 to $28.14, Research) or Sirius Satellite Radio in as an option for its vehicles.  Hyundai ultimately decided to go with XM.
. . .
John Krafcik, Hyundai vice president of product development and strategic planning, told Inside Line that executives were stunned by the number of "unprompted write-ins" on the survey that said customers were "not comfortable with programming from Stern."
Considering that Sirius claims to have 120 channels, and Stern would just be on one of them, as I understand it, that's quite a reaction.  (I have never heard the man, or even one of his local imitators, so I can't say how reasonable that reaction is.)

(In this area, a radio station is pursuing what sounds to me like the opposite strategy from all the shock jocks.  The station, Warm 106.9, has been running TV ads showing a mother with her two daughters (who look to be about 8 and 10).  The mother tells us that she likes the station because she can listen to it with her daughters and not worry about what they might hear.)
- 5:01 PM, 15 May 2005   [link]

Iowahawk Does A Feature Piece On The New York Times:  And he does it with a good imitation of the New York Times.   Here's a sample:

New York, N.Y. - Like the corpses that lazily bob along in the nearby East River, life obeys its own pace in this isolated island community of 8 million in southern New York State.

It is an ancient pace, its cadence dictated by the steady whirr and click-a-clack of word processors, plied by the gnarled hands of skilled opinion craftsmen who once supplied nearly eighty percent of the world's refined punditry output.

To some ears, the din from the mighty opinion mills of this gritty Ink Belt town may be grating; but it has served as a siren call for generations of hungry immigrant OpEd workers.

Each year they come here, from Cambridge and Ithaca and New Haven, young and eager social critics seeking nothing more than an honest day's wage for an honest day's condescension, and perhaps a decent squab pate in white wine reduction.

If you liked that bit on America's favorite liberal newspaper, you'll want to read the whole thing.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.
- 11:10 AM, 15 May 2005   [link]

Once More On That Poll Question On Filibusters:  In this post and in this post, I argued that a poll question on filibusters used in a Washington Post poll was flawed, for several reasons.  In each post, I suggested an alternative poll question that I thought would be fairer.  I now think my second suggestion (though I would now remove the "even") is better than any alternative I have seen.

As it happens, Rasmussen has run a poll using a question broadly similar to mine, and here's what they found.
Today, 57% of Americans say that "Senate rules should be changed so that a vote must be taken on every person the President nominates to become a judge."  That's unchanged from two weeks ago.

The only change of more than a point or two in the data came when we asked about the threat of some Democrats to procedurally shut down the Senate if the filibuster rules are changed.  Two weeks ago, 51% of Americans were opposed to that strategy.  Opposition to Democrats' retaliation has increased to 55% in the current survey.
The Rasmussen question actually gives the background too strongly; the Republicans are not arguing that "a vote must be taken", because they accept some of the other ways to block judges.  The Republicans are arguing that — if a majority of the Senate wants to vote on a nominee approved by the Judiciary Committee — they should be able to do so.  It is just a guess, but I think that, had they used my second question, they would have gotten even more support for a rule change.

You may recall that the Post found that 66 percent opposed the rule change.  I now think that a fairer poll question would have gotten almost the exact opposite result, with 60 percent or more supporting the rule change.

(Rasmussen poll by way of the American Thinker.

Technical question: Should the poll question include the party information, as the Washington Post did?  For voters that identify with either party, that information gives a powerful cue and will nearly always influence their answer.  In general, I would be inclined to leave it out.)
- 9:46 AM, 15 May 2005   [link]

More Mountain Blogging:  Here's one more picture of Mt. Rainier, taken on my February cross country skiing trip, which I described here and here.   You can see the characteristic Rainier cloud cap, looking as it usually does.  It is quite rare for Rainier not to have this cap, which is why you see many, many pictures of Rainier, but not many from the top of Rainier.  When I climbed the mountain a couple of decades ago, it was sunny when we reached the top, and we could see clearly down slope, but we could not see out from the mountain at all.

For those familiar with Rainier, I should add that, yes, the snow really was that white and clean looking that day.

(Some technical details for those who are interested:  The photograph was taken with my Minolta 35 mm camera, using Kodachrome 64 slide film.  I scanned the slide at 1600 dpi using an Epson 1640 scanner, cropped the scan and then touched it up a little bit.)
- 10:02 AM, 14 May 2005   [link]

Worth Reading:  Charles Krauthammer explains the history of filibusters over judges.  What the Republicans are proposing is simply a restoration of the Senate procedures used before George W. Bush took office.
Four years ago this week, President Bush nominated Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the federal bench.  Four years later, she and six other appeals court nominees remain unconfirmed and unvoted upon because of Democratic filibusters.

This technique is defended by Democrats as traditional and rooted in history.   What a fraud.  The only example that comes close is Lyndon Johnson's nomination in 1968 of (sitting) Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas to be chief justice.  But this case is muddied by the fact that (a) Fortas was subject to allegations involving conflicts of interest and financial impropriety, (b) he did not appear to have the votes anyway, and (c) the case involved elevation on the court, not appointment to the court.

Even if we concede Fortas, that is one successful filibuster, 37 years ago, in two centuries of American history.  In 2000, a small number of Republicans tried to filibuster two Clinton judicial nominees but were defeated in that attempt not only by Democrats but also by Republicans voting roughly 3 to 1 for cloture.
Of course, Krauthammer would not have had to write this column if the "mainstream" coverage of the issue had been more balanced.

(In understanding this issue, it helps to recall that many Democrats thought in 2001 (and may still think) that George W. Bush had not won his first term legitimately.  That, in their minds, justified them having a veto over his court appointments.  And of course there are some — Charles Schumer comes to mind — who do not need such excuses for their power grabs.)
- 7:05 AM, 14 May 2005   [link]

Ladies, If You Like Guys with old fashioned manners, you may want to look for Republicans.
As mysteries go, the case of the pink pump doesn't rank up there with the Green River Killer or even the Pink Panther.  But as a modern-day fairy tale, well, it might qualify.

Dave Reichert, former sheriff and current Republican congressman, should know.

As he and hundreds of other lawmakers and staffers raced down the Capitol's marble steps during Wednesday's stampede to safety, a shoe, an expensive woman's pump, suddenly appeared.   "It popped up right in front of me," Reichert said.

The freshman lawmaker from Bellevue caught it. And the case began.
With the help of his wife, he learned that the shoe belonged to the Democratic House leader, Nancy Pelosi.
Yesterday, the orphan was reunited with its owner.  Though Reichert did not ask Pelosi to try it on, he did present it with a flourish during Pelosi's weekly news conference.
A gentleman, and a Republican office holder who recognizes a good opportunity for publicity.   Hard to beat that combination.

(This probably isn't the first time that PI reporter Charles Pope did an entirely positive piece on a Republican.  But it is the first time that I can recall.)
- 4:09 PM, 13 May 2005   [link]

More On The British Election:  At a British site, EU Referendum, which usually discusses "issues arising in relation to the UK referendum on the constitutional treaty" (with the European Union), I found this interesting claim:
The incredible, untold story of the general election is the effect that UKIP (and to a lesser extent Veritas) has had on the outcome.  Overall, on current results, the combined votes of these two parties affected the outcome of 25 seats which might have otherwise gone to the Tories.
(After reading that, some Americans will be wondering what UKIP is, and many Americans will be wondering what Veritas is, at least in this context.  Very briefly, the United Kingdom Independence Party is a minor party that "is committed to withdrawing Britain from the European Union".  (Nice to see such a clear statement of principle, by the way.)  The Veritas Party has much the same views, as I understand it, and is led by a journalist, Robert Kilroy-Silk, who broke away from the UKIP.)

The blogger who made that claim, Richard North, believes that, had these two minor parties not fielded candidates, the Conservatives would have received the votes that UKIP and Veritas did, since the Conservatives are, on the whole, more skeptical about the European Union than their two main rivals, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

I think North is partly right.  But if British voters are anything like American voters — and the data that I saw when I was studying such things showed that they were — they do not not march in ideological lockstep.  It may seem reasonable to North (and perhaps even to most politically involved Britons) that those who voted for UKIP and Veritas would necessarily have voted for the Conservatives if the minor parties had not been on the ballot.  But that is not how many voters actually behave.

Let me review a recent American example, which I discussed at more length in this post.  After the 2004 election, many observed the 2.7 per cent of the popular vote received by Ralph Nader and concluded that, had he not run, Al Gore would have received those votes.  I criticized that on two grounds; first, in exit polls, on 45 percent of the Nader voters said that they would have voted for Gore, while 18 per cent said they would have voted for Bush.  (The remainder said they would have abstained.)   If they were being truthful, Gore would have gained, net, about .7 per cent of the popular vote.   Second Nader being gone from the race would have changed it in many ways.  For example, his absence might have made it easier for Bush to paint Gore as an environmental extremist.

Those dynamic effects are difficult for me to estimate in the United States, and impossible for me to estimate in Britain, given my current knowledge of British politics.  But I can rough out limits for the static effects. 

Suppose that, had the minor parties not run candidates, one fourth of their voters would have abstained, one eighth would have voted for the Conservatives' main opponent, and five eighths would have voted for the Conservatives. This would give the Conservatives a net gain of one half of the minor parties' votes.  I would judge this to be about the best case that is plausible.   In the list below, which I have taken from North's post, I have marked all the Conservative gains with an asterisk. As you can see, under these assumptions, they gain 13 seats, 8 from Labour and 5 from the Liberal Democrats.

Now suppose that the effect of UKIP and Veritas was about the same as that of Nader (according to the exit polls, anyway) and that they cost the Conservatives a net of one quarter of their total votes.  In the list below, I marked those gains with a second asterisk.  As you can see, under those assumptions, the Conservatives would have gained just 4 seats, 3 from Labour and 1 from the Liberal Democrats.

*Battersea (Lab hold) Majority: 163 — UKIP: 333
Burton (Lab hold) Majority: 1,421 — UKIP plus Veritas: 1,825
Carshalton & Wallington (LD hold) Majority: 1,068 — UKIP: 1,111
Cornwall North (LD hold) Majority: 3,076 — UKIP plus Veritas: 3,387
Dartford (Lab hold) Majority 706 - UKIP: 1,407
*Eastleigh (LD Hold) Chris Huhne Majority: 568 — UKIP: 1,669
**Gillingham (Lab hold) Majority 254 — UKIP 1,191
Hereford (Lab hold) Majority: 962 — UKIP: 1,030
High Peak (Lab hold) Majority: 735 — UKIP 1,106
Hove (Lab hold) Majority 420 - UKIP 575
**Medway (Lab hold) Majority: 213 - UKIP 1,488
Portsmouth North (Lab hold) Majority: 1,139 - UKIP 1,348
**Romsey (LD hold) Majority 125 — UKIP: 1,076
**Sittingbourne & Sheppey (Lab hold) Majority: 79 UKIP plus Veritas: 1,118
*Solihull (LD Gain) Majority: 279 — UKIP: 990
Somerton & Frome (LD hold) Majority: 812 — UKIP plus Veritas: 1,531
Staffordshire Moorlands (Lab hold) Majority: 2,438 — UKIP: 3,512
*Stroud (Lab hold) Majority: 350 — UKIP: 1,089
*Stourbridge (Lab hold) Majority: 407 — UKIP: 1,087
*Taunton (LD gain) Majority: 573 — UKIP: 1,441
*Thanet South (Lab hold) Majority: 664 — UKIP (Nigel Farage) 2,079
Torbay (LD hold) Majority: 2,029 - UKIP 3,726
*Warwick & Leamington (Lab hold) Majority: 306 — UKIP: 921
Watford (Lab hold) Majority: 1,148 — UKIP: 1,292
*Westmorland & Lonsdale (LD gain) Majority: 267 — UKIP: 660
So I don't think that UKIP and Veritas cost the Conservatives 25 seats,  Most likely they cost the Conservatives somewhere between 4 and 13 seats.  (Unless, of course there were dynamic factors of which I am unaware.)
- 3:10 PM, 13 May 2005   [link]

Thanks, Newsweek:  At best, this was incredibly irresponsible.
Anti-American violence spread to 10 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and into Pakistan on Thursday as four more protesters died in a third day of demonstrations and clashes with the police.

At one of three anti-American demonstrations Thursday in Kabul, students set fire to a drawing of President Bush and tossed it into the air.

Hundreds of students took part in three separate demonstrations here in the capital, where they burned an American flag, and a provincial office of CARE International was ransacked in a continuation of the most widespread protests against the American presence since the fall of the Taliban government more than three years ago.
. . .
The Afghan authorities and Kabul residents said the spate of violence was the fault of outsiders, who they said were seeking to capitalize on student protests stirred up by reports, most recently in the May 9 issue of Newsweek, that Americans had desecrated the Koran during interrogations at Guantànamo Bay, Cuba.
Was the story even true?  That's not clear.
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff says an investigation has so far turned up no evidence of U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay desecrating the Muslim holy book, the Quran*.
. . .
Gen. Richard Myers said Thursday that an investigation by the U.S. Southern Command, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has so far turned up no evidence that that incident took place.

"They have looked through the logs, interrogation logs, and they cannot confirm yet that there was ever the case of the toilet incident," Myers said . . .
Myers said the only incident recorded in the prison logs was of a detainee tearing pages from a Quran and using them in an attempt to block a toilet as a protest, and even that incident, he said, was unconfirmed.

"It's a log entry that has to be confirmed," he said. "There are several log entries that show that the Quran may have been moved and detainees became irritated about it, but never an incident where it was thrown in the toilet."
To win the war on terror, we need good intelligence, and we need at least some support from moderate Muslims.  It sometimes seems as if "mainstream" journalists were intentionally sabotaging both the effort to gather intelligence and the effort to win hearts and minds.

(John Tierney, who has raised the average IQ of the New York Times op-ed page by at least five points since he was given a regular column, has a sensible discusion of a related issue, the amount of publicity that should be given to acts of terrorism.  He believes, as I do, that some restraint might be in order.

*Why does CNN use "Quran" rather than the more common ""Koran"?  Who knows, though these spelling variants plague anyone who tries to write in English and use Arabic proper names.)
- 7:43 AM, 13 May 2005   [link]

How Does A Pulitzer Prize Winning Columnist Keep Her Readers' Interest?   By making stuff up.
The Sacramento Bee announced Thursday the resignation of an award-winning columnist, the latest in a series of cases across the nation in which journalists had been forced from their jobs because of questions about the veracity of their reporting.

In an explanation to readers, Bee Executive Editor Rick Rodriguez wrote that Diana Griego Erwin could not adequately answer questions that first arose last month about whether "people mentioned in several recent columns actually existed."
(Griego Erwin claims that she was going through personal crises and that she just couldn't bring herself to answer the Bee's questions.  The Bee didn't accept that excuse, and I wouldn't either.)

Brian Maloney, from whom I got this story, gives us a description of the prize winning columns from the Poynter Institute and then asks the inevitable question:
Her winning columns that year (1990) took readers to the streets of Orange County, delving into the stories most people never hear; the places most rarely visit: a Mexican bricklayer navigating bureaucracy at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  A homeless man, anonymous in life but not forgotten in death.  A gang member lamenting the murder of a child.
Now we're left to wonder, were these all fabricated tales?
Maybe not all of them, but I'll bet some were.

To my mind, the worst part of this story is this reaction from some journalists.
The National Society of Newspaper Columnists still wants Diana Griego Erwin as a speaker next month, despite her Wednesday resignation from The Sacramento Bee over allegations that the paper could not verify the existence of some people mentioned in her columns.
. . .
"She's one of the best columnists in America -- and she has a real story to tell now," said Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist/conference host Dave Lieber, who invited Erwin to speak several months ago.
And, who knows, the story she tells them might even be true, though smart people wouldn't bet that it is.   Here are two thoughts for Dave Lieber (and any journalist who shares his views):  First, if her columns weren't true, then Griego Erwin is not "one of the best columnists in America".  In fact, she is one of the worst.  Second, if you honor a liar, readers will trust you even less than they do now.  Those two points would be obvious — even to a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  But they aren't, or so it seems.

(Older readers will find parallels in the case of Janet Cooke, who also won a Pulitzer.

And, while searching for information on Cooke, I found this site, which appears to sell Janet Cooke term papers.  I guess that's ironic, though I am not sure many of the purchasers think so.)
- 6:12 AM, 13 May 2005   [link]

Christian Rock Concert:  Not big news, you may be thinking.   But the place where this one was held may be a little surprising.
MARRAKESH, Morocco, May 9 - In a sprawling open space alongside the Royal Palace here last Saturday night, Baimik Youness and his friend Salahe Boudde were jumping with excitement, about to see their first American rock concert.
. . .
Last weekend's concert, organized by several American evangelical groups and the Moroccan government and called the Friendship Fest, was staged despite criticism from Moroccan Islamic groups and opposition political parties.  Seven American Christian bands alternated with Moroccan groups.   The event drew more than 15,000 Moroccans a day, police officials estimated, as well as dozens of evangelical Christians from around the United States.
Morocco is, officially, more than 98 per cent Muslim, but it is — for a Muslim country — quite tolerant.  Much of the credit for that goes to their monarchs, including their current king, Muhammad VI.  (Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, and their legislature does have some power.)

We should not excuse the horrible persecution of Christians in nations like Saudi Arabia, but we should also not ignore the growth in tolerance in nations like Morocco.

Similarly, we should not excuse the millions of Muslims who, like Osama bin Laden, want to kill us, but we should also not ignore the millions of Muslims who, like heavy metal fan Baimik Youness, just want to listen to American music.

(Why did the Moroccan government decide to allow this concert?  Judging from the article, they are trying to cultivate American evangelicals in order to win support for some of their foreign policy goals.

And I can't help wondering if certain American cities like, say, Seattle, would be as pragmatic in reaching out to evangelicals.

Rock fans of a certain age may recall that Marrakesh was once famous for other kinds of pilgrims, which adds an interesting twist to this story.  Too young to know what I am talking about? Google "Marrakesh express" and you'll find the explanation.)
- 9:33 AM, 12 May 2005   [link]

Too Many Errors:  That's the defense being offered for Prince Harry, who has been accused of cheating on his art project.
Prince Harry's coursework for his art A-level was so littered with spelling mistakes that he could not possibly have been helped to cheat by a teacher, the headmaster of Eton said yesterday.

Tony Little said he refused to believe the allegation from Sarah Forsyth, a former art teacher, that she had written the majority of the text to support the prince's artwork because it was so riddled with careless errors.

The work, which helped the prince to a grade B in art, is said to have included the words "forthwith" instead of "forthright" and "interloking" instead of "interlocking".  It is also said to have had regularly misplaced apostrophes.
I don't know enough about Eton to judge whether it is plausible that an art teacher (who has been dismissed) might such make such errors.  That Prince Harry might make such errors seems to be a matter on which there is no disagreement.
- 8:24 AM, 12 May 2005   [link]

Compared To What:  This morning I was listening to the BBC on our local NPR station, KUOW, when I heard this: "The German economy grew much faster than expected."  That's true; in the first quarter, the German economy grew 1 per cent*, which is not bad at all, and better than predicted.  But that comes after years of poor growth, as Forbes explains.
Europe's largest economy broke out of the 0.1 contraction that it posted in the last quarter of 2004, the Wiesbaden-based Federal Statistics Office said, and grew at twice the 0.5 percent that economists had forecast.
. . .
Strong export growth produced economic expansion of 1.6 percent in 2004. Before that, Germany saw growth of less than 1 percent for three straight years.
How does that compare to the growth rates in the same years for the American economy?  It is much worse, as you can see from these OECD statistics.   At the end of 2004, the American GDP was 9.6 per cent larger than it had been at the end of 2001; in the same time period, the German GDP grew just 1.5 per cent.  It is difficult to compare unemployment rates between countries because they calculate them in different ways.  The OECD does produce a set of "standardized unemployment rates"; by that measure, the latest American unemployment rate is 5.2 per cent, and the German rate is 9.8 per cent.

It would be wrong to give President Bush all (or even most) of the credit for the better performance of the American economy.  It would be wrong to give German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder all (or even most) of the blame for the poorer performance of the German economy.   (Schröder has been in office since 1998.)  But it is also wrong to give Bush no credit and Schröder no blame for this difference.

(*If the German reports are similar to those in the United States, this report may be revised substantially as more data comes in.

I am not an economist, but it also seems plausible to me that some share of the credit for the recent growth in Germany should go to the American economy, since all of the German growth came from exports.  If the American economy had not been growing briskly, it seems certain that the German economy would have been in even more trouble in recent years.)
- 8:01 AM, 12 May 2005   [link]

More On Those Filibuster Poll Questions:  Republican Pollster David Hill comes to much the same conclusions that I did in this post.  The polls on changing the rules for filibusters in the Senate have not produced valid results, because too few people understand the subject, and because some of the poll questions have been biased.
The only point that [Gallup poll editor Frank] Newport makes convincingly is that Americans consistently oppose changing the filibuster as described by pollsters.  The problem with his analysis is that the pollsters' descriptions are hopelessly inadequate and often biased in favor of the filibuster.  By inadequate, I mean that polls try to explain "filibusters" in 50 words or fewer to people who are generally uninformed and disinterested*.

Ask any political-science professor if he's ever been able satisfactorily to explain the filibuster to a class of daydreaming college freshmen in 50 words or fewer.  Even with the specter of a grade hanging over their heads, most students won't get it the first time.
So is there a way to poll on the subject?  There is one legitimate way.  The pollster can "qualify" the respondents and not ask them a question about the filibuster unless the respondent knows enough to give a real answer.  Pollsters don't use that approach as often as they should because it increases the cost of polls.  If they qualify respondents, then they have to question far more people to get a reasonable sample size.

And there may be another.  A pollster might be able to ask the question without using the term, filibuster.  For example, a pollster could phrase the question something like this:
Senate rules currently allow 41 senators to block the other 59 senators from even voting on judicial nominations.  Would you favor changing the Senate rules so that a majority of the Senate could vote on a judge if they wanted to?
I don't think that wording is perfect, but I do think it would be a better measure of public opinion on this subject than the questions I have seen.

(Richard Morin was kind enough to tell me, after I wrote the previous post, that Newsweek had used wording similar to my April suggestion — and got about 10 per cent more support for the Republican position than the Post did with his question.  That shows, I think, how sensitive the results are to question wording.  I'll pass my latest suggestion on to him, but I suspect this version will not show up in the next Washington Post poll.

*He means uninterested, not disinterested, of course.)
- 4:50 PM, 11 May 2005   [link]

Matt Rosenberg has his own ideas on how best to celebrate International Respect Chickens Day.   And if you have a good chicken recipe to share, you can join him in the celebration.  But you'll want to hurry since he is closing off his contest tomorrow at midnight.
- 1:01 PM, 11 May 2005   [link]

Spokane Mayor James West May Have Been offering public jobs in exchange for sex.

Federal agents are looking into accusations that Spokane's mayor offered municipal jobs to men he met in gay online chat rooms in exchange for sex -- the latest allegations against the Republican official.

Mayor James West, who took a leave of absence on Tuesday, has been under fire since The Spokesman-Review reported allegations that he abused two boys while he was a sheriff's deputy and Boy Scout leader in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

City officials also have launched an independent investigation into whether West offered internships in exchange for sex, and whether his office computer was used improperly

The Seattle PI thinks this is very bad.

Whatever problems the former Republican Senate majority leader faces right now, being a gay man is likely the least among them.  His sexuality is not the issue.  His hypocrisy is.   West is in trouble not because he is a gay man, but because he is a man who was apparently willing to use the power of his public office to solicit sexual favors.

Though trading public jobs for sexual favors is illegal (and West is a Republican, which does not help him with the PI), the newspaper is not sure whether he should stay in office.  Why not?   I can't claim to read the minds of the PI's editorial board, but I'll bet that the reason for their timidity is former president Bill Clinton.  If they say that West should resign if these accusations are true, then many will wonder why they took the opposite position when Democrat Bill Clinton got into the same fix*.

My own view is simpler: Public officials who trade public jobs for bribes, of whatever kind, should resign — but then I never supported Bill Clinton, so I don't have to keep protecting that terribly flawed man.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.

(*Forgotten some of the Clinton examples?  The best known are Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky.  Flowers received an Arkansas job after threatening to go public.  She displaced a single black woman with better credentials who then filed a formal complaint.   Imagine, just for a moment, what the press would have done to a Republican who did the same thing as Clinton.

Monica Lewinsky was the only person in her class of interns to receive a job from the Clinton administration.  If you believe that she received the job because she was the best qualified in that group, you will believe anything.)
- 9:36 AM, 11 May 2005   [link]

Counting The Votes At The Forum:  There was an interesting mix of people from the media, from academia, and from blogs at the forum yesterday.  I don't plan a post on the forum, but I did make one observation you may find of interest.

One of my long time habits, in many situations, is to try to count the votes, to try to estimate how the people in a neighborhood, or in a group, voted in the last election.  It is a common habit among political operatives; in Double Star, Robert Heinlein describes a minor character, Rog Clifton, as being able to "walk through a district, 'sniffing' it, and come within two per cent of the result".  I don't claim to be that accurate, and I am not sure any operative is, but I would not be at all surprised to learn that, for instance, Karl Rove, could guess Bush's vote in a precinct within 5 percent most of the time, just by walking through it.  (What would we look for besides the obvious like yard signs and bumper stickers?   Many things, but the best indicators for me are kids, churches, and car makes.  And, though it was less true in this last election than in many earlier elections, it is still true that Republicans tend to be better off than Democrats.)

And so, without planning to, I found myself counting the votes at the forum.  How many votes did Bush get from that group?  At most, 1 in 4.  (I should add that the party division was not obvious, at least not in the discussions that I observed, and that those of us in the minority were treated with great courtesy by the others there.)
- 8:54 AM, 11 May 2005   [link]

This Afternoon, I'll be participating in a forum on blogs, "Consuming News in the Age of the Blog", at the University of Washington.  For possible use at the forum, I have made this list of some older posts, so that I can reference them easily. Of course, you might find some of these interesting even if you don't attend the forum.
- 9:55 AM, 10 May 2005   [link]

If You Are An Experienced Hiker, you already know this.  But I see so many people when I go out hiking, and even cross country skiing, who don't that I want to post this reminder.  If you go out into wild areas, be prepared.  In particular, don't dress like these two lost ladies.
The search for two missing hikers in Snohomish County, Wash., was set to resume Tuesday for two women ending their second night in the wilderness.

The women are not experienced hikers and are wearing only jeans and light jackets.
Luckily they were rescued this morning, and are said to be in good condition, but not because of their own good sense.

(What should you bring?  Here's the traditional Mountaineers' ten essentials.   Here's a variant that adds four.  And many would now add a cell phone to those lists.  Cell phones have saved many people.  (And probably tempted a few people to take risks they shouldn't have.)

In this area, the fifth item on the list, the rain gear, may be the "most essential", if you will excuse me for putting it that way.  That's especially true if you are wearing "only jeans and light jackets", clothes that give you almost no protection against hypothermia.  Despite their popularity, jeans are not really suitable for hiking, at least in wet areas like this one.)
- 8:34 AM, 10 May 2005   [link]

Does Affirmative Action Raise Crime Rates?  If it is used in police departments, it may.
L.A. is not the only city that damaged its police force in a headlong rush for "diversity."   During the 1990s, Washington, D.C. had to fire or indict 250 cops after a similar lowering of standards, and New Orleans indicted more than 100 crooked or inept cops who had been hired--it was later found--due to "political pressures."  Miami had a similar scandal after scores of cops hastily recruited in response to race riots and an immigration surge got involved in robbing cocaine dealers and reselling their drugs.  "We didn't get the quality of officers we should have," acknowledged department spokesman Dave Magnusson.

A scholarly study published in April 2000 in the professional journal Economic Inquiry found that aggressive "affirmative action" hiring raised crime rates in many parts of the U.S.  In careful statistical analysis of 1987-1993 U.S. Department of Justice data from hundreds of cities, economist John Lott (then of the Yale School of Law, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute) found that quotas requiring more black and minority police officers clearly increase crime rates.   When affirmative action rules take over, he reports, the standards on physical strength tests, mental aptitude tests, and other forms of screening are lowered.  The result is a reduced quality of officers--both minority and non-minority recruits end up being less impressive.
Less impressive puts it mildly.  Both Los Angeles and Washington, D. C., in their rush to hire minority policemen, brought in some men who were on the wrong side of the law.  You can imagine, even without knowing the details of police work, how much help that gave to crooks in those cities.   And who suffered most from these policies?  Most likely minority communities, since that is where crimes rates are the highest

(London is using "positive discrimination" to hire policemen, although they claim they are not.  Can London look forward to an increase in crime soon?  They can if American experience is any guide.  And we shouldn't criticize them for not learning from our experience, since outside of some individual police departments, we haven't learned from it either.

American Enterprise article by way of Real Clear Politics.  London story by way of Laban Tall.)
- 11:02 AM, 9 May 2005   [link]

Here's a fine cause that anyone who values science will want to support.  Very briefly, Senator McCain is sponsoring an amendment that will make it far more difficult for archaeologists to explore sites that are thousands of years old — out of deference to Indian tribes that did not exist then, and whose ancestors may not even have lived in the area.  The "Kennewick Man" is the most famous case in this controversy, but not the only one.

There may be an important vote on the controversy tomorrow, so if you are planning to act, you'll need to do it soon.

If you need to know more, Moira Breen has a collection of posts on the subject here
- 10:36 AM, 9 May 2005   [link]

Should We Force Others To Follow Our Religious Beliefs?  Most people, or at least most people in Western countries, would say no.  But of course, we do it all the time, though we may not realize it.  Our laws against, for instance, murder, very much come from religious beliefs, and would seem strange to some tribes, even now.  And most of us think it reasonable to regulate people's dress, while they are in public places, again for reasons that come out of our religious beliefs.

So we, like every other society, do force others to follow our religious beliefs.  But we do it less than most and we often allow those who do not share our beliefs to practice their own in some limited way.  Some Indian tribes get exceptions in our drug laws because peyote use is part of their religious practices.  And it is easy to think of many more examples.  Even during World War II, we allowed conscientious objectors to find other ways to serve.

But some are not satisfied with those kinds of accommodations and want to prevent conscientious objectors, in whatever area, from following their religious beliefs.  Nowhere is this more true than in the relations between men and women, and between boys and girls.  There have been many conflicts in Europe between Muslims, who wish to preserve their traditional rules in this areas, and central governments.  France, as you probably know, is having a great fight over whether school girls will be allowed to wear the head scarfs that mark them as Muslims.

On the whole, I think we ought to tolerate conscientious objectors where it is practical to do so and where it does violate our own beliefs.  But not everyone shares that view.  A fanatical Episcopalian is determined to force others to follow his religious views, in, of all things, co-ed wrestling.

Some background information may be necessary before I get to the main story.  Washington state high schools occasionally have co-ed wrestling teams.  This is not because the teams wanted to be co-ed, but because our courts thought that equal protection laws required the boys teams to allow girls to join — if there was no girls wrestling team — and there almost never is.  (In a few cases, boys have been allowed to join girls teams for similar reasons.)

Many people (including, of course, most Muslims) have religious beliefs that make the kind of contact inherent to wrestling inappropriate between boys and girls.  Schools teaching those beliefs have found a way for their boys to be conscientious objectors:
Girls who wrestled for several Puget Sound-area middle schools this year easily won their matches against boys from two private schools.

The girls stepped onto the mat.  Their opponents from Tacoma Baptist and Cascade Christian stayed in their seats.  The referee then raised the girls' hands to signal they'd won by forfeit.
This is, by the way, completely within the rules, since any wrestler can choose to forfeit.   But our fanatical Episcopalian, who is the father of a girl wrestler, was not satisfied.
But the easy victories didn't sit well with the girls, including Meaghan Connors, a seventh-grader at McMurray Middle School on Vashon Island.  Her father, Jerry, is prepared to go to court over what he considers a clear case of sex discrimination.
. . .
Connors, however, believes the forfeit rule shouldn't be used to discriminate against girls, including his daughter, one of a half-dozen girls on teams in the league, drawn from schools in King, Pierce and Mason counties.

Connors, a former Episcopal president and one-time pastoral assistant for social justice at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, believes religion should play a role in public life.  "But there's a limit," he said.
The limit, for Mr. Connors, appears to be any belief that conflicts with his own religious beliefs.  Which is why I call him a fanatic.  (And I can't help wishing that the reporter had asked whether Connors would force boys from Muslim schools to wrestle girls.)   Will the courts uphold his fanaticism?  Probably not, but one can never be sure.  And it is disturbing to see just how favorably the reporter treated this fanatic.

(Of course the whole idea of co-ed wrestling is crazy.  For all sorts of reasons.  But what interested me in this story was Connors' fanaticism — and the sympathetic way it was treated by the reporter, Linda Shaw.  I can see why the Tacoma Baptist superintendent did not return her calls,)
- 6:57 AM, 9 May 2005   [link]